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Talking in Exams Project Update

by Shirley Lawson

on Tue Dec 08, 2015

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“Is there something my student can use to allow them just to speak and their words appear on the screen?”  

The plea of many teachers everywhere

Yes there is and it’s called speech recognition software.  It is much more accurate and reliable now (especially installed software options such as Dragon Naturally Speaking) and interest and usage is increasing in schools all over Scotland.  The ‘Talking in Exams’ project started back in June 2015 when we ran some free Professional Learning sessions which were attended by staff from 28 schools and services. Everyone learned how to use Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Pro, and considered how speech recognition could be introduced to learners. A single licence of Dragon and a high quality USB headset was provided to each attendee so they could trial it with their students.

There has been a wide range of feedback from participants in the project from none to detailed, enthusiastic sharing of good results.  In some schools, logistical issues have hampered progress (software on only one static PC, timetabling issues, too much background noise).  In other schools, teachers have been very creative and determined to find solutions realising that this software can unlock the potential of many learners who struggle with handwriting or word processing.

illegible handwriting       

“ I am now able to use much bigger words than before as my spelling is rubbish and I would normally choose easy words I could spell”

“Getting my thoughts and ideas out now is so much easier and it all looks neat and is spelt correctly. I want to use it all the time”

“I have seen my students produce work that they are now proud of. It’s been a tremendous boost to their confidence”


I have been to visit several schools who have been taking part in the project and have found students keen to chat about and show me them using the software.  There is a distinct feeling of relief  - “finally, a way to get my thoughts, ideas, answers down so I can read them back and can hand them in to the teacher”

I was able to offer several tips and advice on how to improve their experience of using Dragon software.

  • Set a Hot Key on the keyboard to toggle the software On and Off. This allows easy, quick ‘thinking time’ before starting to speak again.
  • Take the Interactive Tutorial offered (under Help on the toolbar)– it covers all the basic editing tools in a simple, clear manner.
  • Use ‘Select All’, ‘Playback’ to hear all your text read out.  When students do this they often realise they want to add something else in. Say ‘Insert before’ <word> and the cursor will move to before <word> and they can then add in a phrase or sentence. To return the cursor to the bottom of all the text, say ‘Go to end’

Are we confident that the software can be used in an SQA exam setting?

I think that confidence in the reliability of the software is increasing but there is some apprehension about the use of any technology in an exam setting in case it does not work on the day. Any technical fault for a student using Dragon software would require moving to a second ‘clean’ exam computer which had another copy of Dragon software installed with the student’s User profile copied onto it. This is probably a prohibitively expensive option for most schools. However it is very possible that some students will be able to use it for National 3 and 4 literacy units where it is no longer possible to use a scribe for the assessment of writing but the use of speech recognition software is allowed.

Angela Verity at Kaimes School, Edinburgh has helped 14 students on the Autistic Spectrum create profiles on the one single licence of Dragon.  She has been very impressed with the result and feel it has been a huge boost for them.  She has been working with six students at a time; one on the computer while the other five watch the text appear on the whiteboard. They have been using it to write personal statements and to plan their daily outings.

Adrian was out of class one day and came to Angela’s room. He would not tell her why he was out of class so she suggested that he ‘tell Dragon’.  He did not want her to see what he was saying so she left the room and told him he could delete it all before she got back. He sat down and spoke at length and his words appeared on the screen. He then deleted it all and stood up to leave.

“ I feel much better now. I think I will go back to class”

Hugely beneficial as an outlet for his feelings and his ability to self manage. This use of the software for a young man with autism would seem to be whole other worthwhile project for investigation.

Tags: speech recognition, talking in exams, sqa

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